Fenton versus Menton; it’s the midfield battle that from Meath’s perspective could make or break their challenge in Sunday’s Leinster final.
Brian Fenton, still unbeaten in the championship with Dublin, is arguably their most important player and will come up against Meath joint-captain Bryan Menton on Sunday.
So far in the championship, powerful Menton has struck 2-4, recording tallies of 0-2 against both Offaly and Carlow, and 2-0 against Laois. It’s an impressive return from a player at the peak of his powers and he’ll need to at least break even with Fenton for Meath to stand any chance of a famous win.
“Brian Fenton is at the top of his game,” said Menton of the Raheny man, who has won four All-Irelands. “He has probably been one of the best midfielders in Ireland for numerous years, but I’m just concentrating on my own game. It’s the same with the team, we’re just going after a performance. That’s the number one thing. We know we have a lot to improve on after the last three games in the championship.
We are going to have to up it a level massively, but that’s what we’re aiming for.
It’ll be Meath’s 12th game since the start of the Allianz league, with just two defeats in that period, both to Donegal. They secured promotion to Division 1 of the league and are back in a provincial final now for the first time since 2014.
It’s been considerable progress, but they haven’t faced a Division 1 team yet, and certainly not a side like Dublin, the eight-in-a-row Leinster champions, who are tipped by bookmakers to win by at least a dozen points.
“Dublin set the bar for everything you look for in a team,” said Menton. “Their kick-passing, their general skills, fitness and everything else about them, it’s all top notch. Everything is set at the top level. That’s where we’re certainly looking to get to.”
Menton’s strong form gives Meath a fighting chance of competing at that level this weekend and the Donaghmore-Ashbourne man admitted he’s in the shape of his career. “I have the experience under my belt, of timing the runs, everything that goes with the position,” he said. “Also, consistently playing in one position has helped. I’ve tried to become a midfielder and a midfielder only. That’s allowed me to know what fitness levels I need to get to, the skill levels I need to get to. If I’m not in my prime at 28 years of age, it might be that bit too late for me. I think I am and I’m ready for a big battle now.”
Menton is optimistic about Meath’s chances of living with Dublin in a tight game.
“There were a lot of games throughout this year’s league that in previous years we would have lost by one or two points, but we actually won them this year by one or two points,” he said. “It’s been positive and I think knowing how to deal with setbacks is the number one thing.”
Ken Hogan, Ger Cunningham and Michael Moynihan review the weekend's hurling drama with Anthony Daly